Our perfectly imperfect themed birthday party

I have a thing for themes.

Any kind of theme, really. I love pulling things together into a fun package. I loved it as a H.S. Language Arts teacher, I love it as a curator of features like Handmade in Iowa for the Des Moines Register, and I love it as a mom.

In fact, sometimes I get so carried away with planning themes that I neglect everything else, like personal hygiene or cleaning my house. I’m pretty sure there’s a mental disorder with my name on it.

So when it came to Boy #3’s birthday party, I knew I wanted to go with a theme. My sister and I decided to do a joint birthday party for her son and mine since they’re both in the same grade (although a year apart in age), and since we were both belated in our planning (one’s birthday was July and one’s mid-August). Better late than never, right? (Just don’t ask a 8-year-old that…)

Both boys are really into LEGO Ninjago right now, so I decided to run with that. I Googled and Pinned until my fingers bled, finding some incredible ninja-related party ideas and some REALLY elaborate parties. All I can say is WOW.

And WOW again.

This kid’s party is more professional-looking than my wedding was! I totally admire all of the work and creativity that went into putting together this themed party, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to spend the money nor time that this party probably cost (Hello, new screens, tables and floor pillows??), and since I’m living in the middle of Iowa and not Hollywood, I figured no one would expect me to.

So, my sister and I put together a very imperfect party for our boys, and it turned out good enough. In fact, Boy #3 told me after the party, “I didn’t know you were going to make it so fun!” As if I would, instead, make them do “un-fun” things, like play “I Spy a Toilet That Needs Cleaning” or “CNN Headline News BINGO.”

We made the brilliant decision to rent a building that our friends own for the party. There is a kitchen, a smaller room with tables and chairs and a HUGE open gym, perfect for boys because there was not much in there they could damage or destroy. PLUS, I didn’t have to worry about planning the party AND getting my house clean, and if you would’ve seen my house before we left for the party, you would understand why — it looked like a Nobbies had exploded.

When the boys arrived, they were each given a headband with their name on it. My sister made these and they looked awesome. The font was a perfect “ninja” font, and the boys loved wearing them. Then we did “The Ninja Walk,” which was a variation of a “cake walk” or “book walk.” They had to walk in a circle and were supposed to walk stealthily like a ninja while the music played. Ah, yes, the music. Well, I thought I had downloaded the theme song to the “Ninjago” cartoon onto my computer, but when I went to set it up at the building, I couldn’t find it. And unfortunately, I had lost all of my songs on iTunes several months ago when my hard drive was rebuilt. I had literally ONE song on iTunes — “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. (Yeah, don’t ask.) So the ninjas discoed around the circle instead of ninja-walked, and when the music stopped, Husband called out a number, and whoever was standing on the number got a prize.

While half of the kids did the Ninja Walk, the other half made a Ninja scroll. I downloaded the word “Ninja” written in Japanese Kanji and showed the kids. Well, I’m trusting the Kanji meant “Ninja.” For all I know it really said “llama turds” or “bite me.” But since I don’t think any of the parents can read Kanji either, I think I’m safe. I had scrolls already made up, using two 10-inch dowels I found in the cake decorating section of Wal-Mart and tracing paper (which is much thinner than computer paper). We watered down some black paint to look like ink and gave each kid a paintbrush and had them try to copy the Kanji on their scroll. They really enjoyed this, and some of them just did their own thing with it, which is totally cool.

We also had each boy stand in front of a photo booth with their choice of prop to hold. I literally copied these from someone else’s blog, printed them out and glued them to a cereal box to make them sturdy. I hung up red wrapping paper as a backdrop, but of course I hung it way too high for the kids. Oh well… They still looked cute.

Next, we gave each kid a weapon. (You’re welcome, parents!) My sister made Ninja swords by spray-painting paint sticks silver and then covering the bottom of the sword, or the handle, in black electrical tape. They looked really cute and proved to be very effective as well! I wish I would’ve gotten a “before” picture of the Ninja Training Center because once we turned them loose, it was destroyed in about 2.4 seconds! We had blown up quite a few balloons with helium, tied ribbon around them and taped them to the floor so the balloons were about head-high to the kids. They were supposed to “spar” with the balloons, but apparently wooden sticks and balloons are not very good friends, and the game became “see how fast we can pop all of the balloons.” Some balloons escaped to the ceiling, and then the swords starting FLYING to try to hit the balloons. I was envisioning having to take a Ninja to the ER with a sword in the eye, but luckily no one was injured during this game. When we saw that boys were started to STAB with the swords, we quickly collected them until the kids went home (Again, parents, you’re welcome!) and moved on to food.

I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a store-made cake when I knew the boys would probably take one bite and then run off to play, so I attempted to face my culinary fears and create my own. Fortunately, frosting can cover a lot of mistakes, including the cake breaking into pieces. Of course, I copied these cakes off someone’s Pinterest board, although mine were very sad adaptations of theirs.

A green ninja…

And a blue ninja…

Even though I used the same cake mix for both, the green cake was about 4 inches taller than the blue cake. I can’t tell you how much food dye I went through to get the blue frosting that color, which I was cursing myself for as I cleaned up bright blue dog vomit off my carpet the next morning.

I decided to also try making “sushi” out of Rice Krispie treats, Swedish fish gummy candy and Fruit Roll-Ups. I am embarrassed to admit that I cannot for the life of me make Rice Krispie treats, which I think is a prerequisite to joining the “Good Mom Club.” Everyone and their dog can make Rice Krispie treats — except me. They never turn out right, either so gooey that you cannot dislodge them from your fingers no matter how much you shake them, or so crumbly that you can’t even cut them into squares — you just have to take a spoon and eat them out of the pan. So not trusting myself to make these, I cheated and bought Rice Krispie treats, except not even REAL Rice Krispie treats, the cheap Little Debbie version of them. They were about $2 cheaper per box! I figured the kids would just inhale and then run off to play, so I hoped they wouldn’t notice the difference.

And finally for the food, I wanted to just give out fortune cookies and then decided to dip them in chocolate almond bark …

… which then looked exactly like goat hooves. I’m not kidding. One of the boys even asked, “Why did you make goat hooves?”

I was too cheap to buy Gatorade for the kids, so I just bought bottled water and downloaded some Ninjago water bottle labels from another more-talented mom blogger than me. Boy #2 helped out by presenting each Ninja with his “element,” depending on the color of the Ninjago character on the bottle. They seemed way impressed and excited, which was funny. Hey, dudes, it’s just water!

Afterward we opened presents and apparently my camera was hijacked for a while by a little person because as I uploaded photos, I saw a bunch of photos like close-ups of presents, the door and other photos I hadn’t remembered taking. But this photo, taken by the Anonymous Ninja, was perfect! I love how it’s at eye-level with Nephew and completely captured his mood at the party!

After the party, we made Husband and Brother-in-Law pose for a photo. I’m not quite sure about their Ninja moves…

So of course, Sister and I had to show off Ninja moves of our own.

After which, Sister said that it’s obvious we’re related as both of our first instinct for a Ninja move was to hike up our knee, which I’m not even sure looks anything like a Ninja. (If you’ve heard us both talk, you’ll know that we sound exactly alike, too, so apparently we share more than just the “Ninja” gene.)

Overall, it was a fun party, and I think the fact that it wasn’t polished and perfect made it even more memorable. After all, imperfection is my middle name. Boy #3 is already planning his theme for his 9th birthday party. I think I may try to not wait until the morning of the party to make all the food and decorations next year, though. Yeah, right…

Want to see where I got my ideas? Check out my Ninjago Birthday Party Ideas Board on Pinterest. And if you can’t find something there that I’ve written about, leave a comment and I will get you the link!



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